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  • In 1964 Japan unveils the Shinkansen Bullet Train, and it has the Japanese

  • glued to their televisions. As news helicopters filming the train struggle

  • to keep up, cheers erupt in living rooms across the nation. The Shinkansen is a

  • powerful symbol of Japan's post-war recovery. But it's also groundbreaking.

  • Because at the dawn of the Jet Age, when air travel and cars seem destined to

  • replace everything else, the lowly train is about to make a comeback.

  • In the 19th century, the locomotive and steamship replaced the horse and sailing

  • ship as the primary movers of humanity. In the 20th century, it seemed almost

  • certain that the automobile and aircraft were going to do the same. Make earlier

  • forms of transport largely irrelevant. Trains in particular were seen as

  • obsolete. A slow and inconvenient way for people to travel. No match for the

  • unfettered freedom of the personal automobile. In the 1950's, the Americans

  • were pouring billions into building Interstate highways and rail lines were

  • shutting down. In Europe, railways were stagnating. Many countries were still

  • operating steam locomotives. And it was in this context that Japan was blasting

  • through mountains, drilling 67 miles of new tunnel, and constructing over 3,000

  • new bridges. All to build a railway. But this wasn't going to be just any railway.

  • This was one of the most ambitious rail projects of the century. The Japanese

  • were calling it the Shinkansen, and the trains on this new line would run at

  • speeds unmatched anywhere in the world. Nearly twice as fast as any existing

  • train in Japan. And the new line would be dedicated only to high-speed trains,

  • which meant they'd be able to travel at incredible speeds between Japan's two

  • biggest cities; Tokyo to Osaka. And to make such high speeds possible, the new

  • line would be built using a wider gauge of rail. And it would be laid out with

  • gentle curves, which meant tunneling through and bridging over much of

  • Japan's difficult terrain. But for all its ambition, many dismissed the Shinkansen

  • as ridiculous. A senior railway executive described the project in 1964

  • as the 'height of madness.' The wider gauge of rail, which was necessary for such

  • high speeds, made the Shinkansen incompatible with the rest of Japan's

  • rail network. Many questioned the value of a fast train, if it would be stuck running

  • on a single line, and whether the effort involved in getting trains to reliably

  • go this fast, was really worth it. But the criticisms weren't just technical. This

  • was one enormously expensive project. And to make matters worse, over five

  • years of construction, the Shinkansen's budget had spiraled out of control.

  • Nearly doubling over the original estimate. And because of that, two visionaries

  • leading the project, the President of Japanese National Railways and his Chief

  • Engineer, both resigned before the project even finished. The media were

  • calling it Japan's Great Wall of China. A massive but ultimately misguided effort,

  • when other countries were looking towards jets and automobiles as the

  • future. But the critics would soon fall silent.

  • When the first Shinkansen line opened in the fall of 1964, the world took note.

  • Because it made cars on expressways look like they were standing still, and once

  • profitable inter-city air routes were now being threatened by a train.

  • In just the first three years of service, the Shinkansen carried over 100 million

  • passengers. Demand skyrocketed. The new line not only better connected

  • Japan's two largest cities, it seemingly pulled them closer together. A Tokyo

  • executive could now attend a meeting in Osaka

  • more than 320 miles away, and still make it home in time for dinner.

  • A combination of speed and frequent service made the world's first

  • high-speed railway enormously profitable. It turns out that the Shinkansen

  • was anything but ridiculous. Because the project's visionaries weren't taking a

  • gamble on some radical new technology. Instead, they adapted the very best

  • proven technologies and brilliantly integrated them into one seamless system.

  • A Shinkansen train's streamlined shape and smooth outer

  • surfaces minimized air resistance and noise at high speeds.

  • There was no locomotive, not in the traditional sense. Instead motive-power

  • was distributed with axles each driven by separate electric traction motors. The

  • setup offered superior acceleration, and a train could operate even with multiple

  • failed motors. It also meant more evenly distributed weight on tracks, which

  • reduced wear. At 130 miles per hour, the new Shinkansen trains had the highest

  • service speed in the world. And yet speed had never been the real motivation. This

  • wasn't some vanity project. the Shinkansen had always been about

  • moving a large volume of passengers, so engineers designed the new line to

  • withstand the stress of running 60 high-speed trains in each direction

  • every day. A number that would only increase through the years to hundreds

  • today. To withstand the stresses, rail ties were made of pre-stressed concrete

  • and rails, each normally 82 feet long, were welded into nearly 5,000 foot long

  • continuous sections to reduce vibration and noise. Rail crossings were eliminated.

  • Cars were routed either above or below the line to ensure safe and reliable

  • service. Moving at over 190 feet per second, a Shinkansen conductor would have

  • struggled to react in time to conventional wayside signals. The

  • solution was Automatic Train Control, a system that sent signal information

  • directly on board to the conductor, regulating speed based on a train's

  • position. The entire line was monitored by a centralized traffic control center

  • in Tokyo, critical to the safe operation of a high volume of trains. And in one of

  • the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, seismometers were

  • installed along the line. The system would cut power at the first sign of

  • earthquake, automatically activating a train's emergency brakes. And to keep the

  • track in tip-top shape, special diagnostic trains nicknamed the 'Yellow

  • Doctor' regularly assessed the state of the track and overhead lines using

  • sophisticated on-board monitoring equipment. The enormous success of the

  • first Shinkansen line spurred its extension westward, and over the course

  • of the next half century, new lines would be built to reach nearly every corner of

  • the nation. The opening of the world's first high-speed railway in 1964 had a

  • profound impact on Japan. But it also changed the way the world saw railways.

  • In no small part, the success of the Japanese helped inspire other countries

  • to develop their own high-speed networks like France's TGV, which began service in

  • the early 1980's. Over the past 50 years speeds on shangkun's and lines have

  • continued to increase, made possible by new track technologies and successive

  • generations of trains. Shinkansen trains on newer lines now regularly hit 198

  • miles per hour. While Shinkansen trains are no longer the fastest in the world,

  • focusing on speed alone misses the point. No other rail system in the world can

  • match the Shinkansen for it's incredible efficiency, safety and punctuality. Today,

  • the Shinkansen moves over 1 million people every single day. During peak

  • periods, one departs Tokyo every three minutes. And since 1964, the Shinkansen

  • has maintained a pristine safety record, moving over 10 billion people

  • without a single passenger casualty. It's punctuality is the envy of the world,

  • with average delays measured in just seconds. And for the visionaries who

  • forged ahead with getting the first Shinkansen line built, over half a

  • century ago, they were ultimately vindicated for creating the world's most

  • renowned high-speed rail network, and for introducing modern high-speed rail to

  • the world.

  • Japan's Bullet Trains run on their own dedicated tracks. But if a Bullet Train

  • traveling at 137 miles per hour were to approach a much slower train, one

  • struggling just to maintain 54 miles per hour, and it takes 7.5 seconds for the

  • bullet train to overtake the slower train, well then you should be able to

  • figure out what the length of the bullet train is (in feet). The first viewer to

  • post the correct answer in the comments gets a free t-shirt from the Mustard

  • store. It's one thing to know basic math concepts and another to have an

  • intuitive ability to solve actual problems, like this one. Brilliant.org

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  • become a better learner, an intuitive thinker, and a problem solver. If you have

  • no idea where to even begin solving our train problem,

  • check out Brilliant's algebra courses, which cover the whole range from

  • introductory to advanced. In Algebra 1 there's a whole section called 'Algebra

  • in Motion' where you'll learn how to solve problems involving measurements of

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In 1964 Japan unveils the Shinkansen Bullet Train, and it has the Japanese

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Why This Train Is The Envy Of The World: The Shinkansen Story

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/28
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